The drumming world lost one of its most iconic ambassadors when Joe Morello died of heart failure today at his home in northern New Jersey. He was 82.
Best known for his groundbreaking solo on Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” Morello distinguished himself with an intellectual and precise drum style that was pivotal in shaping the sound of cool “West Coast” jazz — ironic, since he was such an east coast player.
Raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, Morello moved to New York City in the early ’50s and cut his teeth with such acts as Johnnie Smith, Stan Kenton, and Marian McPartland before replacing drummer Joe Dodge in Brubeck’s quartet in 1956.
Written by the Quartet’s reed player Paul Desmond, the song “Take Five,” was a true aberration – an instrumental jazz composition in 5/4 with an extended drum solo, which nonetheless peaked at #25 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960, an era when rock began to dominate the airwaves..
Morello’s “Take Five” solo was pivotal in the drumming lexicon. Highly melodic, it employed rhythmic themes that Morello developed throughout the performance, played with an easy feel that defied the song’s tricky 5/4 time signature.
The drummer had been born with impaired vision, which continued to worsen after his 12-year stint with Brubeck ended in 1967. Even before Morello officially went blind in 1976, he had redefined himself as one of the top drum teachers in the East Coast (DRUM! Magazine contributor Danny Gottlieb was one of his prize students).
In recent decades, Morello released a series of educational books and videos and leaves behind a legacy of legendary recordings with some of the biggest names in jazz. He also released several solo albums, including his final one, Morello Standard Time, in 1994.
Joe Morello’s funeral will take place at St. Joseph’s Church, 44 Benvenue Ave., West Orange, New Jersey.